Federal records obtained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals show 15 welfare violations over four years by Oregon Health & Science University involving research animals, including monkeys, mice and a ferret.
The documents, shared with WW by PETA, show the 15 incidents resulted in 28 animal deaths.
PETA representatives tell WW that Andréa Kuchy, a research associate at PETA, plans to send a letter to OHSU president Danny Jacobs asking him to implement a policy that would strip experimentation privileges from anyone who violates federal animal welfare regulations and guidelines.
“We ask that you address the persistent pattern of neglect, incompetence, and disregard,” the letter reads, “that characterizes the treatment of vulnerable animals in the school’s laboratories.”
Many of these incidents were due to “human error” and deemed “not reflective of a larger problem” or “isolated incidents,” according to OHSU records.
“We can’t seem to avoid being human,” says Dr. Vickie Jarrell, director of the Animal Care and Use Program at OHSU. “When horrible things happen, we address them immediately. The loss of an animal is something we take very seriously.”
Most of the incidents recorded in the correspondence between OHSU and the U.S. Department of Laboratory Animal Welfare appear to be accidents, occurring between November 2017 and February 2021.
In November 2017, a monkey was separated from its partner during transportation to an outdoor enclosure. It became trapped in the equipment and died of suffocation. In response, OHSU established more safety protocols, including “making it impossible for animals to access the space where entrapment occurred.”
Dr. Greg Timmel, a veterinarian and professor at OHSU, tells WW that this incident would have been difficult to anticipate.
“We have been performing these processing things for…decades without having seen anything like this,” he says. “When something happens, that’s often the situation. We’ve never seen it before.”
A few months later, in September 2018, 12 mice drowned due to an incorrectly sealed cage. Though the person responsible for these deaths could not be determined, OHSU required remedial training with the staff who worked with the rodents.
“We can only imagine how terrified these animals were as they swam desperately for their lives,” the PETA letter to Jacobs reads, “frantically looking for an escape, to no avail, as the cage slowly flooded.”
Then in June 2019, a ferret had to be euthanized using an unapproved method because experimenters used a “poor sterile technique.”
OHSU says it has different groups oversee its experiments and protocols to prevent mistakes in labs, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture performs annual inspections.
In another incident in January 2020, two researchers tried to euthanize 11 rats and harvest their tissue. They were not authorized to work with live animals or conduct euthanasia. OHSU responded by having employees attend more training over requirements for handling live animals and ensuring that the laboratory that received the rats will not be provided live animals in the future.
PETA vice resident Dr. Alka Chandna sees these incidents as a pattern of behavior for OHSU.
“It is unquestionably the case that OHSU suffers from a culture of disregard for the welfare of animals imprisoned in its laboratories,” she wrote to WW. “As PETA and other animal protection organizations continue to shine light on the atrocities taking place at OHSU, there will be a reckoning.”